In 1989, Kansas State University received a grant from the Ford Foundation to develop a program that would address racial tensions and equity issues for kindergarten-12th graders. As a result, the university developed the Exemplary Multicultural Practices in Rural Education Program (EMPIRE), a consortium of elementary and secondary schools that educates staff and students about living in a diverse society. It promotes positive race relations, an appreciation for ethnic and cultural differences, and has encouraged schools to develop learning environments where children of all backgrounds can be successful. The university selected two sites to implement EMPIRE, Heritage College and Northern Arizona State University. (In 1993, the Ford Foundation grant expired, and Northern Arizona State University closed the program. With private funding, Heritage College was able to continue the program and formally adopted the program.) At Heritage College, EMPIRE operates in the Yakima region of rural Central Washington State. The Yakima area contains a diverse mix of ethnic groups, including whites, Hispanics, Native Americans, blacks, and Asian Americans.
With support from EMPIRE's board of advisors, each school designs and carries out its own projects based on local resources and needs. EMPIRE schools plan a wide variety of programs and activities with emphasis on staff development, student awareness, parent involvement and improvement of curriculum and instruction. Some of the projects include: hosting pow wows, organizing multicultural fairs and "Heritage Days," which celebrate Native American heritage; training teachers in cooperative learning and other inclusive instructional strategies; inviting tribal elders to speak with students and faculty; and revising curricula to include multiple perspectives. These activities focus on learning about and appreciating other cultures as well as one's own, and is based on the premise that people can best learn to respect other cultures when they first respect their own.
The original EMPIRE consortium of four schools in the Yakima region has grown to 13 since 1989, with plans to expand to 20 schools in the fall of 1998. EMPIRE has been featured in several publications, including A Matter of Spirit, published by the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center. Since 1991, EMPIRE has held two conferences a year. EMPIRE has a Website at www.heritage.edu/communit/empire.